In Ukraine: Kyiv’s Book Arsenal Festival Draws 28,000

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

The 11th Book Arsenal Festival—prevented in 2022 by Russia’s attack—has been staged successfully in Kyiv this week, with Zelensky on-hand.

Some 28,000 people reportedly attended the 11th edition of the Book Arsenal Festival in Kyiv this week. Image: Chytomo

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Kozlovets: ‘We Were Doing Our Thing’
As Publishing Perspectives readers will remember, organizers of Ukraine’s Book Arsenal Festival in Kyiv announced plans in April to attempt the 11th staging of this book fair this month, after the show was made impossible last year by Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked and illegal assault.

The event at the Mystetskyi Arsenal (from which the title “Book Arsenal” comes) now has been held, June 22 to 25, organizers tell us, with attendance having reached some 28,000 people.

Thanks to Iryna Baturevych at Chytomo, we can report that the festival’s director, Yulia Kozlovets welcomed the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky and first lady Olena Zelensky.


There was special significance to the Zelenskys’ visit, in that the president, by the opening of the fair, had signed into law a measure that makes it illegal “to publish, import, or distribute in Ukraine books containing works by authors who are citizens of the Russian Federation.” The neighboring state of Belarus is also placed off-limits in this order.

Translated literature, according to the new regulation, “must be published and distributed in translations in Ukrainian or any official language of the European Union or the language of the indigenous people of Ukraine.”

Ukrainian publishers are barred from translating books into Russian and cannot publish Russian authors’ work in Ukraine, although Ukrainian authors who write in Russian “will be freely published in Ukraine. Similarly,” we read, “the law does not prohibit citizens from purchasing books in Russian for their own use in non-wholesale quantities.”

Taras Kremin, Ukraine’s commissioner for the protection of the state language, was quoted at the time of the signing, saying, “This law will strengthen the position of the Ukrainian language and stimulate the development of Ukrainian book publishing and book distribution by effectively counteracting the colonialist policy of ‘russifying’ Ukraine. From now on, books will be published in the original language, in Ukrainian translations, in the languages of the EU and indigenous peoples of Ukraine.”

President Zelensky and first lady Olena Zelenska at the 2023 Book Arsenal Festival in Kyiv. The festival’s director Yulia Kozlovets is at the right of the picture in white. Image: Chytomo

Programming in this special edition of the fair was divided into four sections:

  • “When Everything Matters,” the literary program
  • “Transfer Experience Into Memory,” the program for children and teens
  • “When War Is Not Only in Books,” on the crisis
  • And a professional program devised for the publishing community

In addition, there were screenings of literary filmworks, programming about and from libraries, and more.

The late Ukrainian children’s author and poet Volodymyr Vakulenko—the recipient of a freedom-to-publish Prix Voltaire special award in May from the International Publishers Association (IPA) at Lillehammer’s World Expression Forum, WEXFO—was remembered by a presentation of his diary. Vakulenko was abducted in March last year by Russian-affiliated forces. His body was found in November in a mass grave.

Talking about Vakulenko in an onstage conversation with Chytomo, Victoria Amelina said, “The fact that we are holding this book in our hands means that Volodymyr Vakulenko won. That is why it is called the story of one victory. My mission with the publication of this book ends, and the readers’ mission begins.”

Part of the 2023 Book Arsenal Festival crowd outdoors at the Mystetskyi Arsenal. Image: Chytomo

The bookstore Syaivo curated a selection of books about the Russian war, and the structure of the fair was adjusted to have various bookstores curate thematic sections—this to make it more practical to stand up the book fair in the wartime capital. Some attendees found this useful—one area for children’s books, for example—while others said they’d have preferred the peacetime configuration in which there’s been less thematic organization.

“Each of us, walking through the Art Arsenal today, thinks about our gratitude to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which allow us to do our work and be who we are.”Yulia Kozlovets, Book Arsenal

And at the opening, there was an expression of profound appreciation for the Ukrainian military troops, who provided the safety needed for the show to be produced.

In a comment to Chytomo, Book Arsenal’s director Kozlovets made it clear that a part of the joy of this special iteration of the show was that it presented a chance to pursue a familiar, important goal under extraordinary circumstances.

She said to the crowd at the show’s June 22 opening, “Preparation for the festival took place during the times that you and I experienced together: blackouts, bombings, airstrikes. At that time, we were doing our thing.

“Each of us, walking through the Art Arsenal today, thinks about our gratitude to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, which allow us to do our work and be who we are.”

Tbilisi-based Gvantsa Jobava, vice-president of the International Publishers Association (IPA), greets a fair-goer at the 2023 Book Arsenal Festival in Kyiv. Image: Chytomo

Here is all our coverage of Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine and its impact on the country’s publishing industry, as well as international reactions. Our special thanks to Iryna Baturevych at Chytomo for her assistance in preparing this report. 

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Book Arsenal Festival is here, and more on the international book fairs, festivals, and trade shows in publishing is here. More on the freedom to publish and the freedom of expression is here

Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s world media partner.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.